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Airport Restrooms Are Going All-Gender—And There are Good Reasons Why

Airport officials are discovering that a smoother passenger experience often passes through better washroom design, and facilities from coast to coast are making the change.

Picture it: Kansas City, 2023. A grandmother enters a restroom at the Kansas City International Airport (KCI), but stops abruptly when she sees a man inside, using a sink. She looks confused. The man glances at her over his shoulder.

“I’m just trying to figure out which way the ladies’ room is,” the woman tells him with a nervous laugh.

The man explains: There is no dedicated men’s or ladies’ room here. This is a unisex bathroom. Choose any stall with a green light over the door. A red light means a stall is occupied. 

The woman raises her eyebrows and pauses, but says, “okay,” and walks toward the stalls. 

“And then we can meet back here and wash our hands together,” the man says. They laugh.

This is the new all-gender washroom experience in KCI’s airport terminal, which opened in February 2023. 

City officials praised the new facility as a model for the airport of the future, with plenty of natural light, public art, and branches of local restaurants instead of corporate chains. But the new airport did introduce a controversial feature: All-gender restrooms. 

When the terminal debuted, social media erupted with protests about forcing men and women to use restrooms together. One keyboard warrior referred to the change as “tax payer funded perversion.”  

After travelers actually use the bathrooms, though, complaints have been few.

The new toilet stalls at KCI are similar to a bathroom we would use at home: a fully private room with a real door and walls that extend from floor to ceiling. There are no gaps offering glimpses of who is inside, and each stall has its own ventilation fan. Except for the communal hand washing, the process is rather luxe—and entirely private. 

Justin Meyer, Deputy Director of Aviation for KCI, championed what the airport calls its “multi-user, all-gender bathroom” concept. While planning the new facility, Meyer observed the flow of foot traffic in the old Kansas City airport. He noted how arriving passengers would exit their planes and head directly to restroom, and the sudden rush of people often resulted in a line out for the women’s room, while men could enter theirs without delay.

“It’s not fair that there are no lines for the guys,” Meyer told Frommer’s, “but the women’s room has a line 10 people long.”

The multi-user, all-gender configuration maximizes access and efficiency, Meyer explained, without having to install larger spaces. It is also a great way to “create more privacy and more dignity” for everyone, he said.

Meyer pointed out the fact that other airports in the U.S., including San Francisco and Newark, have also converted some bathrooms into multi-user all-gender facilities. 

The gender-neutral style of washroom is already established across Europe, and it’s also popping up in China. 

In July 2023, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport announced the opening of its own first multi-user all-gender bathroom, explaining in a statement that the change “helps create a better flow for travelers and reduces waiting and congestion.” 

Aviation officials in Seattle said the bathroom style was new for the airport, but that “all-gender restroom facilities are not new,” pointing to restaurants and concert venues in the area that use a similar configuration.

On social media, KCI’s Meyer has made a point of telling travelers they could still find gender-separated restrooms in the airport, too, if that’s what they want. 

KCI now has two multi-user all-gender restrooms in the new terminal’s passenger area, but it also offers eight sets of gender-separated ones.

Joe McBride, Communications Manager for the Kansas City Aviation Department, said the new washrooms are part of inclusivity initiatives in the airport that also include low-sensory areas for travelers on the Autism spectrum and bathroom stalls with adult-sized changing tables. 

The new facilities eliminate any disputes about who is allowed to enter a restroom. People who are traveling in any situation—for example, a traveler in a wheelchair who has a caretaker of a different gender, or simply a parent with a child—can enter these new stalls with equal access and do their business.

“The all-gender bathrooms are part of the aviation department’s effort to make the new terminal at Kansas City International Airport one of the most inclusive airport terminals in the world,” said McBride.

Judging by the reaction at KCI, most travelers who actually experience the all-gender facilities come away from them with few objections, even if they might seem confused for the first moment.